SALT LAKE CITY — The idyllic Jazz season has encountered a few bumps along the way but all pale in comparison to another issue involving Donovan Mitchell.
Suddenly, we've got an undercard to the main event between the Utah Jazz and the Memphis Grizzlies in the Western Conference playoffs — Mitchell and his own team of medical advisors vs. the Jazz trainers and doctors. Round One, advantage Jazz.
Five weeks after suffering a sprained ankle that caused him to miss the final 16 games of the regular season, Mitchell declared himself ready to play in the days leading up to the first playoff game. Jazz brass thought otherwise, ruling him out only hours before tipoff.
Mitchell was upset at the decision, which was exacerbated by Memphis winning Game 1 on Sunday and wrestling away the homecourt advantage the Jazz gained by posting the NBA's best regular-season record. In declaring he will pay in Game 2, Mitchell still sounded irritated a day later during a Zoom session with reporters.
"It eats me," he said. "I barely slept."
Let's just say the importance of the Jazz winning this series increased tenfold. Anything less than advancing to the second round, especially if the Jazz lose in seven games, could lead to strained relations between the team and the star player.
Obviously, it wasn't supposed to be this way. Aside from the occasional mini slump, injuries to the starting backcourt of Mike Conley and Mitchell were the only major concerns during the regular season.
Now, here we are, with Mitchell refusing to back down from his original belief of being able to play. If ever the Jazz needed to win a playoff series during his four years with the team, it's this one against Memphis.
"Obviously, it's no secret what happened," he said. "For me and my team, I was definitely frustrated and upset that I wasn't able to play. I'm a competitor. I felt I was ready to go; I felt ready to go. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case."
From the Jazz standpoint, management would want to squash any problem with Mitchell before it festers similar to last year. In the midst of the pandemic lockdown, reports surfaced that Mitchell's relationship with center Rudy Gobert was unsalvageable.
The pair quelled any rift by going on to have stellar seasons and represent the Jazz in February's all-star game for the second consecutive season. As with Mitchell and Gobert, the common goal of winning a championship will go a long way toward smoothing over any ill will— provided, of course, the Jazz win this series.
But for the time being, the situation might be tender. Within 24 hours of the Jazz losing, reports went national indicating Mitchell was furious with the decision.
Mitchell couldn't pinpoint one issue for the reason Jazz officials prevented him from playing. Rather, he said several things that led to the decision.
Saying his medical team works in conjunction with the Jazz, Mitchell hated not being allowed to help his team. He addressed the situation in a brief players' only meeting on Monday.
"I felt like I should have played," he said. "To be honest with you, that's no secret. We all know that. At the end of the day, the experts said no. We can disagree on those things. But that was the frustration. It's unfair to my team. I was like, man, I let them down in a sense."
In response, Jazz coach Quin Snyder essentially spoke for the team during his scheduled media session on Monday. As expected, he was ready to move past the situation and focus on squaring the series on Wednesday.
Snyder believes Mitchell and his teammates can use the adversity, a term he used loosely, to galvanize the team. He begged off of getting into specifics on the decision to sit Mitchell, saying he is not privy to all the details.
His frame of reference was Ted Lasso, a comedy streaming television series, and goldfish "because it has a memory of 10 seconds. That's where we need to be. We need to be moving forward and thinking about Game 2."